Research Projects

wondering how we write

Academic Research

studying how to teach effectively

My doctorate is in rhetoric, scientific, and technical communication (RSTC); my master’s degree is in composition theory and rhetoric. My research projects consider how technology affects the teaching of rhetorical skills, from academic to technical communication. Additionally, planned research projects seek to explore more effective methods to educate the general public on complex issues during policy debates.

Click for more about my autism advocacy and public appearances.

Because I am interested in autism and other neurological differences, I often examine how communication abilities and choices vary. Some educators assume there are universals regarding the development of communication skills. Students with special needs tend to be exceptions to these assumed rules. For example, the autistic experience challenges our preconceptions about how people perceive interactions.

Among my creative interests are stage and screen. I anticipate conducting research in communication beyond the printed page: stage, screen, audio, and whatever might come next. For now, multimedia is the best term we have for communication via various modes, since there is little “new” in the way we approach digital media. I believe students with disabilities can use new media to examine their experiences and educate others.

Listing all questions of interest to me is impossible, as I find myself curious about a great many topics. Some areas of inquiry include:

Autism, Special Needs, and Writing

  • Is there an “autistic” writing style? How do disabilities affect written language patterns?
  • How can technology help more people write? (And why is writing so primary in our culture that this is an essential skill?)
  • Is technology-assisted writing “marked” by any difference?
  • What can technology teach us about autism and language?

Creative Writing Interests

Academic Writing Interests


Rhetoric of Economics

Economic theories fascinate me as an entrepreneur, and as a student of philosophy. If analytical logic could lead to “the truth” in economics, we would not have so many economic schools of thought — and sects within these schools. What might studying economic debates through the prism of rhetoric reveal about the dominant thinkers and their adherents? What leads one set of economic theories to “win” public policy debates? Why are economic (and political) debates in the United States dominated by Keynesian and Chicago school models of economics? Exploring the rhetorical failures of the Austrian School, in particular, could advance scholarship in both disciplines.

Rhetoric of Creative Writing

Creative writing is a “rhetorical act” that inherently manipulates the reader or audience. Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction shaped my understanding of what it means to be an author. As the New York Times suggested, Booth reminded us that “authors seduce, cajole and more than occasionally lie to their readers in the service of narrative” (2005). When I am writing I do not ponder the grand concepts explored by Booth; they are internalized. What I have wondered for years is how to teach the concepts as skills, leading to art. Can the rhetorical devices of effective creative writing be taught?

Philosophy and Fiction

Additionally, I research the influence of Continental Philosophy on writing, particularly modern fiction and new media. The term “existential” is used to describe many works of fiction, but does the term apply? Is existentialism misunderstood by critics of fiction, placed under the heading “postmodern” for convenience? The need to understand the “self” is a major element of fiction, especially in works arguing that existence itself is illogical or absurd.

Philosophers, even those challenging “meaning,” tend to create complex lexicons. They do this because meaning and clarity do matter to them, even while they argue meaning is personal.

Literacy Education

Because communication is the foundation for society, it is essential that we foster literacy in our educational system. We should not define “literacy” as the reading and writing of words; instead, we should embrace a broad definition of literacy education.

Autism Spectrum Disorders
and Language Arts Education

As a researcher and educator, I have a personal interest in students with developmental disorders, in particular autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Among the challenges for autistic students, ASDs affect language development and social skills. Writing is social, requiring both collaborative skills and empathy for the audience. I believe we can and must use technology to help students with autism express themselves. Effective self-advocacy and participation in the greater community both require a form of “composition literacy” that extends beyond traditional writing, as well.

  • The Autistic Place (http://www.autisticplace.com): A Drupal and MediaWiki website dedicated to issues of autism and education. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, funded the research and provided the support resources to create this specialized Web portal. The project was terminated in October 2010 as various non-profit organizations launched similar sites.

If It Involves Words…

I am curious about how we develop writing skills, how we employ those skills, and how writing has shaped society in general. The written word has allowed humans to communicate skills, share information, and archive histories. Words also allow us to express emotions and beliefs.

We recognize that all writing can be “rhetorical” in nature. Fictional works, such as Shakespeare’s Richard III, shape our views of society and history. Teaching students the power of words is important to maintaining democratic ideals.